Government stays off funding hook in virus crisis

Australia’s universities are stoic as they face the prospect of tens of thousands of fee-paying Chinese students not enrolling this semester and maybe fewer to follow. They have no choice

There is certainly is a case for lifting the ban on Chinese students arriving. Across the ditch, Grant Guilford VC of Victoria University of Wellington, argues travellers lie about where they have been and bans, “are capable of stigmatising entire races of people: in the case of coronavirus, those of Asian heritage.”

But some peak university bodies in Australia do not dare demand the arrival ban be lifted for students – the case they made would not be heard for accusations of their placing self above national interest.

And there is another, powerful case universities could make for Canberra to assist them in the coming cash crisis.

“There’s a reason why Australian students rate the quality of their uni experience so high and why the nation’s research effort is so well-placed on global league tables – the fees international, mainly Chinese students, pay,” a HE funding analyst says.

“Neither Labor nor coalition governments are prepared to pay what university teaching and research costs and they are happy for international students to subsidise our system.”

So, with the China revenue stream slowing, surely it is time for Canberra to stump-up. The time might be right but the politics aren’t.

“There were peak bodies which expected Labor to win the last election and did not keep it to themselves,” says a close-observer of the corridors on Canberra power.

“(Education Minister) Dan Tehan is willing to work with the sector and is keen to present the government as a friend of students and a research-supporter. But higher education has no favours to call in from this government.

“Demands for public money, to replace lost fee income will go unanswered, when they are not denounced, by the government as special pleading during a national crisis.”

So, what’s to be done?  “Get the case for assistance ready and hope the government creates a precedent by supporting the tourism industry.”